The Tablet that Desperately Wants You to Buy it

microsoft tablet virusesOver the holidays I chuckled a little bit every time I saw a commercial for the Microsoft Surface. It wasn’t hard to see the desperation in those commercials that were trying so hard to convince people to replace their MacBook with a Surface. What is pathetic is that these commercials were using the same old tried-and-failed tactics that Old World Technology companies have been using for years with little success. Now they are using them seemingly louder and more often, which only makes them all the more sad.

First, the commercials focus almost exclusively on hardware features. From the particular processor they use, to the removable keyboard, to the use of a stylus, the marketing team behind these campaigns still believe that people buy technology devices based on nothing but hardware specifications. That ship sailed way back in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone. However, it’s the only weapon that Old World Technology companies have in their holsters, so they’ll keep pulling the trigger even if it is out of bullets.

The reality is that the commercials don’t mention that these Windows-based devices run Windows 8 because you might as well say these tablets are infected with Ebola. The common perception of Windows 8 is not favorable (to put it mildly) and Microsoft is doing marketing gymnastics to avoid talking about Windows 8 while promoting Windows 8-based devices. No wonder Microsoft has now announced that Windows 10 will be free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users.

It’s also interesting that Microsoft chooses to compare their devices to a MacBook laptop instead of an iPad tablet. The definition of a “laptop” is blurred, since for what a lot of people do, an iPad is more than enough. People can also buy keyboards for the iPad and make it much more like a traditional laptop. Styluses can also be added to an iPad. However, an iPad starts at $499 where a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 starts at $799. Then to get the keyboard that Microsoft raves so much about will set you back another $129. And don’t think that the keyboard is an “optional” accessory. Attempting to use the Surface Pro without a keyboard is like attempting to use, well, a laptop without a keyboard. So in reality the Surface Pro starts at just under $1000 So maybe now we see why Microsoft wants to position the Surface against the MacBook. The prices are comparable. It is a very tough sell to convince someone to buy $1000 Surface over a $499 iPad. The problem is that people don’t really want a tablet that can replace their laptop. They want a tablet. Just a tablet. A tablet that is simple to use, won’t break the bank, and that doesn’t require overly complex accessories.

Let’s talk a little more about the keyboard and stylus that Microsoft thinks are the best thing since sliced bread. As I mentioned above, for all the talk that the Surface is a tablet with an optional detachable keyboard, if you’ve ever used a Surface you know that the keyboard is virtually non-optional. The same thing goes for the stylus. The commercials say, “I can write with a pen.” The reality is, “I MUST use a pen.” Attempting to use the Surface without a stylus is an exercise in frustration. The reason is that for everything that Microsoft says about the Surface Pro being a modern tablet, its operating system is still rooted deeply in the traditional (i.e. Old World) Windows desktop model.

Does anyone remember the “Tablet PCs” that Bill Gates declared were “the future” back in the year 2000? Probably not, because if you were unfortunate enough to get suckered into purchasing one back then, you found out that the “Tablet PC” was really just an over-priced, overweight laptop that had a stylus. Sales of the so-called Tablet PCs were abysmal, eerily reminiscent of how the Microsoft Surface line has sold so far. The main problem then, as now, is that attempting to use an operating system designed for a keyboard and mouse with a touchscreen interface is unwieldy, cumbersome, and generally just plain awkward.

microsoft tablet windows 8Of course today Microsoft has Windows 8, which is an operating system designed for tablets and mobile devices so things should be better now, right? Unfortunately, Windows 8 has only made things worse for Microsoft. Windows 8 is a Frankenstein of an operating system, attempting to combine the old desktop paradigm with a new touchscreen interface. The problem for Microsoft is that people nearly universally hate the new Windows 8 touchscreen interface. So they fall back to the familiar desktop Windows interface which is really hard to use with a touchscreen. All the controls are too small to effectively use with a fingertip, so a stylus is not optional but a practical necessity. But then this introduces a new problem: using a tablet with a stylus in one hand is doubly awkward. So that lauded kickstand suddenly becomes not just a nice feature, but something that is absolutely required because you need to put the device down on a table to actually use it with a pen. Suddenly that tablet isn’t much of a tablet. Oh, and hopefully you don’t lose that Stylus because it costs $45 to replace. It’s also easy to lose, by the way, because unlike previous Tablet PCs, there is no place to slide the stylus into when you’re not using it.

If you’ve ever attempted to use a Surface as a true tablet, you quickly realize that it is just not the right shape to use effectively. It is simply too tall to use handily in portrait mode (i.e. “vertically”) and too wide to use comfortably in landscape mode (i.e. “horizontally”). It is quite apparent that the Surface line was designed as a laptop with a detachable keyboard. For some reason Microsoft thinks that people really want their tablets to be laptops. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that this is not true. There is a reason the iPad sales took off like a rocket. It was the right combination of computing device with no baggage required. Most people didn’t miss the keyboard. Virtually no one complained that there wasn’t a stylus. For those who did want keyboards and styluses, a plethora of third-party options are available, but the important point is that none of these add-ons are necessary. The iPad works just fine with nothing more than your fingers.

Then there are some issues of fit and polish. The fact that the Surface Pro is really just a traditional Windows PC stuffed into a very thin form factor brings along the issues of heat that affect all PCs. One of the first things people will notice about the Surface Pro as compared to other true tablets is the sound. No, not the audio from YouTube videos but rather the sound of a fan. Yes, the Surface Pro requires a fan to keep it from overheating. People will also notice if they hold the Surface is that it gets fairly hot, even with the fan. Not that these issues are truly that big of a deal, but it again just goes to show that the Surface is not truly a tablet, but rather a laptop with a detachable keyboard. A lot of tech companies fail to appreciate the fine little details that can make or break the success of a device. The sum total of all the fine little touches (or lack thereof) in a technology device can be the difference whether people enjoy using a device or begrudgingly tolerate it.

Finally, if all that weren’t enough, Windows still brings along the baggage that is malware. Conveniently Microsoft doesn’t mention that the Surface is still as susceptible to malware as any other Windows-based computer. All the detachable keyboards in the world can’t stop a Surface from getting infected with a virus that brings it to its knees. Its stylus can’t remove malware either. In my experience, malware is one of the most frustrating experiences a computer user can have. It is also one of the main motivations for people leaving the Windows platform over the last several years. If we completely ignore every detail I wrote about in the rest of the article, I can’t imagine that people would happily leave the virtually malware-free comfort of an Apple MacBook or iPad to go back to dealing with malware. This issue alone should be a deal-breaker. Until Microsoft can adequately address the issue of Malware, those who use Windows-based devices are setting themselves up for a world of hurt.

In all honesty, I think the Surface Pro is actually a very good device for some very particular uses. I have in fact recommended the Surface Pro to a clients as a best-of-breed device when they required a Windows-based laptop/tablet hybrid with a stylus. The main use case are doctors who want to be able to use a stylus when working with Windows-only practice management software. It is a little ironic that the price caused a few of my clients to decline my recommendation, but I digress. I believe Microsoft should stop attempting to sell the Surface as a replacement to the MacBook or even iPad because it just makes them look desperate. Plus if any unfortunate consumers actually believe Microsoft’s commercials, customer dissatisfaction will probably do more to hurt Microsoft in the long wrong.

Technology and Economic Change

A friend on Facebook posted the following:

tech-032212-003-617x416I’d like to share some thoughts on ideas from an article I read recently (and unfortunately can’t locate at the moment).

The gist of the article is the Technology (or Internet) Revolution of the last few decades has widened the gap between the rich and non-rich much as the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century did. Not as the result of governmental policies due to fundamental changes in how our economic system functions. For example:

* Technology has resulted in the concentration of wealth, power and technology.

* Technology has eliminated many low-skill and/or repetitive jobs that traditionally served as a way out of poverty and into the middle class.

* Technology has opened up competition for many higher-skill jobs (design, coding, journalism, automation, etc., etc.) to the global market resulting in wage stagnation for middle-class workers.

What I took away from the article is that – just as the abuses of the Industrial Revolution lead to many labor, industrial and economic reforms – the current revolution will require systemic changes to our economic framework. And, more importantly, traditional Liberal and Conservative ideologies, which are based upon the experience of the 20th Century, really aren’t equipped to provide those solutions

Any thoughts?

Any thoughts? Of course I have thoughts on this topic! But a Facebook comment simply won’t do my thoughts justice, so I told him I’d write a blog post.

The points presented obviously slant towards technology being a negatively disrupting force in the economy. Then my friend’s takeaway was that because of these negative disruptions, systemic changes will be required to our economy. I must assume he meant governmental regulations, because he then talks about liberal and conservative ideologies.

I must say that when presented in this context, the technology and Internet revolution sure does sound like a scourge on humanity! Who wouldn’t be for controlling this abomination? But of course, this is only one side of the story. Before we can discuss this topic, we should take a more balanced look.

Has technology concentrated wealth and power? Undoubtedly people have become extraordinarily wealthy from their Internet businesses. But it has also created incredible opportunities for everyday entrepreneurism that could never have been imagined before. When companies that didn’t exist before 1995 like Amazon.com can become the world’s largest book seller and topple old giants like Borders, technology has also created a more even playing field. When the Internet has basically destroyed the stranglehold the recording industry had on music, it must be talked about in the same breath as any claims of power concentration. Certainly the Internet has caused a de-concentration of power as well as any perceived concentrations.

Besides these big examples, the Internet has created entirely new career categories such as web developers, social media marketers, mobile app developers, and YouTube celebrities. Which if it is true that the Internet has eliminated low-skill and/or repetitive jobs, then we must also acknowledge the creation of new jobs. We must also accept the fact that the Internet has made it easier for entrepreneurs to find customers and therefore made it easier for non-technical businesspeople – from housekeepers to accountants – to compete against big companies.

It’s no secret competition is good for consumers. When the Internet makes it easier for small business to compete, consumers win. Not only does competition help keep costs down, but it also increases innovation and gives consumers more choices. Potentially with competition keeping costs down, wages may be affected. But while some wages may stagnate, others may increase for those who take the bull by the horns and adapt to the changes the Internet was brought forth.

So with the perspective of a more balanced viewpoint, do we really need government to “reform” our economy? Technology has transformed not only the economy, but almost all aspects of our society. The fact that this conversation started on social media and that I can publish my response on a blog that anyone in the world can read are proof alone of that. What we must realize is that regulation has side-effects. If we want to stifle the supposed negative ramifications of technological change, we need to accept that we will also dampen the positive effects that technology can bring to the economy and society.

I do agree on one of my friend’s points: that traditional political ideologies aren’t suited to provide solutions to a rapidly changing economy, especially when most politicians don’t even understand that which they would attempt to regulate. I would go so far as to say that any political ideology that says they need to control the economy is not suited to The New World of Technology.

Instead of the violent, forceful change that government brings, I trust in the natural, holistic evolution that free people bring about on their own as they adapt to change. Systemic changes have already happened and will continue to happen as the market transforms. Not through any action of government, but rather through the behavior of free people in a market that has been relatively free of regulation. The technology industry is one of the closest examples of a functioning free market that we have seen in recent history. Luckily by its nature of rapid advance, there has been little opportunity for governments to suppress it, at least in this country. Which has been a good thing because it was the technology industry that burgeoned our economy in the 1990’s and has almost single-handedly kept it afloat through the rough times of the 2000’s. That and it fundamentally changed the way we live and communicate. Certainly we must be appreciative of the positive advances that this market free of government interference has brought forth.

We must understand that we are only at the beginning of the technological advances coming. If we attempt to apply control and regulations now, based on our rudimentary understanding of technology as it exists today, we potentially strangle the benefits of technology that hasn’t even been invented yet. We threaten to stifle the advancement of modern technology much in the same way that was done in the early part of the 20th century with the heavy-handed government regulation of radio and telephone communication. This resulted in the government-sanctioned monopoly of AT&T and the concentration of power in politically-favored media companies. Ironically, this concentration of power has only started to erode because of the Internet. What a shame it would be to strangle the freedom the Internet has brought us because we are frightened of change. What a shame it would be if our fear returned us to the pre-Internet world where our information was tightly controlled by a select few from government and big corporate interests.

Bottom line, free people adapt to change. The relatively free market that technology has developed in has brought us amazing advances in our society and economic growth. Why would we want to endanger it? Attempting to control the economy amounts to playing god and not doing a very good job of it. No politician is smarter than all of us. Offering them control of the new economy is a foolhardy endeavor, certainly destined to be a so-called “cure” worse than any perceived “disease”.

Calls for Peace in Ferguson – Where’s Obama?

obama-ponderingIf you happen to live in the St. Louis area as I do, you no doubt are apprehensively awaiting the upcoming grand jury decision on whether Officer Darren Wilson will be charged with murdering Michael Brown. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that all the local media outlets are running stories constantly reminding us that the decision is due any day now and that if a decision is made not to indict Officer Wilson, it will likely spark large scale protests and potentially more violence as was seen 3 months ago. In preparation for this  event, many elected officials are calling for peace regardless of what the decision is. Even Michael Brown’s parents are asking that no violence be used to protest in their son’s name. However, conspicuously absent from these calls for peace are words from the President of the United States.

As usual, please read my Obligatory Obama Disclaimer if you haven’t already.

I am willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is waiting to make public statements once he is given a heads up that the decision is forthcoming. However, with other politicians and public personas making statements now, I can’t help but wonder if his silence is deafening. It certainly can’t hurt to call for peace more than once. And let’s face it, coming from the first black president, I think his words would hold a lot more weight in this situation.

Anyone who knows me or has read my writing should realize that I’m definitely not one for government action (or overreaction) especially coming from the office of the president. However, I do believe that the office does hold a very special distinction that should be used as liberally as possible. Having the unofficial title of “leader of the free world”, the President of the United States should use every opportunity possible to show leadership in situations where freedom is in jeopardy. I believe this is precisely one such situation. Instead of being silent on the subject, Obama should be using his role as Chief Advocate for freedom to say in no uncertain terms that instigating violence and infringing people’s rights are not acceptable behaviors for free people. This goes for protestors or law enforcement. He should be repeating this message early and often on every media outlet and social media platform he can. And perhaps he should be in Ferguson making appearances and talking to those who lead the protest movements. Honestly, this is probably the most important domestic issue on his plate right now and yet he seems to be more interested with what is happening in China or hugging Koala Bears in Australia.

His silence in this situation is especially perplexing given his political ideology. For someone who constantly advocates that people should trust in big government and to let big government take care of them, it is unusual for him to not be telling people to trust in what the Missouri grand jury will decide. Or to trust the results of his own Department of Justice investigation for that matter. If he is to be consistent in his application of his ideology, shouldn’t he be attempting to instill faith in the government-run process of justice no matter what the outcome may be? Or perhaps, like many other politicians, he simply changes his convictions any time it is politically convenient for him.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised as Obama has hardly been one to step up to the plate when it really matters. But regardless of how much I disagree with his political ideologies, I would certainly think much more of him as a human being if he would use his position of influence in this situation. He literally has the chance to save lives by his words. Or he can continue to do nothing and put people’s freedoms on the line. Whatever course of action he chooses in this situation will say a lot more about him than anything else he has done in his presidency. So yet again, I ask Mr. President, are you going to man up or step aside?

Karma and the 1985 World Series

1985 World Series, Out at First

Even Royals fans know this is an out.

I do not acknowledge the supposed results of the 1985 World Series.

As far as I’m concerned, the series is still in game 6, bottom of the ninth, pending a review of a play at first base. Given that video replays clearly show the runner is out at first and umpire Don Denkinger made the wrong call, I believe that the game stands at one out with bases empty in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Now unlike many Cardinals fans, I’m not going to say that this call absolutely cost the Cardinals the World Series. They still had two more outs to go, and who knows what would have happened after that. It it certainly possible the Royals would have rallied regardless. However, in the same breath, with the correct call the Royals would have remained down by a run with no base runners and only two outs left. It doesn’t take a baseball expert to surmise that a team in the World Series two outs away from winning with their dominant closer on the mound has the odds clearly on their side. But just to emphasize the point, an article written by a self-professed Royals fan analyzing the percentages show that the Cardinals’ chances of winning the game would have gone from 81% to 89% if the correct call had been made. Instead, the Cardinals’ chances of winning changed to only 67% with the blown call. Many Royals fans will argue that the Cardinals still had the odds on their side and therefore “the call” can’t be blamed for the Cardinals losing, but the effects of such an unprecedentedly bad call on the psyche of a team can’t be ignored.

Denkinger-effectLet’s put a little perspective on the magnitude of the call made by Don Denkinger. Umpires make bad calls all the time to be sure. However, rarely are bad calls so irrefutably wrong. Rarely are bad calls made in a game and situation of such importance. Rarely do bad calls so directly affect the outcome of a championship. As I mentioned, all the TV replays showed the call was wrong. The announcers couldn’t believe the call. After the game, the commissioner of baseball told Denkinger that the call was wrong. The call was so bad that Denkinger himself later admitted he made the wrong call. This wasn’t just an ordinary bad call. It was an epically bad call in the tightest of games. This was a bad call of historic proportions. Given the situation, it is perhaps the worst call ever in the history of baseball. It is fairly obvious that the Cardinals just weren’t the same team after that call and it is hard to blame them given the unbelievable situation. Unfortunately we will never know what would have happened if the play had been correctly called and the game would have continued like business as usual.

I’m a big believer in Karma. I think Karma can even extend in ways that are hard for us to fathom. Therefore, I do not think it is coincidence that the Kansas City Royals, who had not played a postseason game since that fateful 1985 World Series, finally made it into the playoffs this year – the very year that instant replay was finally introduced into Major League Baseball. Had instant replay been available in 1985, Don Denkinger’s colossally bad call would have been easily reversed and the series would have wrapped up without controversy. Maybe baseball Karma was at work and the Royals were destined to not play in the postseason until instant replay could prevent a bad call from influencing a series like it did in 1985. Could be. Just maybe. Baseball is a strange sport like that.

Given we can't go back in time, this is the way it should be.

Given we can’t go back in time, this is the way it should be.

Like I said above, even with the odds squarely in their favor, I’m not going to claim that the Cardinals are the rightful 1985 World Series champions. Even if the call had been correctly made or reversed, they still had two outs to go and without the benefit of a time machine, we can not go back to find out if they would have closed out that game. However, it is a stretch to say that the Royals can rightfully claim the 1985 crown. The bad call and ensuing brouhaha gave them a significant unfair advantage. So how do we resolve the situation? It wouldn’t be right to strip the Royals of the title and give it to the Cardinals, but we can’t ignore the monumental umpiring error that possibly robbed a team of a championship . The best I can come up with is to acknowledge both teams as 1985 World Champions. In this year of instant replay, we should attempt to right what once went wrong. 29 years later we can’t apply instant replay and resume game 6 of the 1985 World Series, but we can retroactively acknowledge the egregiously bad call that completely changed a series.

Apple, Samsung, the Evolution of Smartphones, and Real Innovation

Apple-Samsung-logoNow that the iPhone 6 models have been released, the buzz among consumers and competitors alike is in full swing. Both Apple fans and detractors are lighting up the Internet with their opinions on larger screen sizes and claims of which companies are the most innovative. For me, it has been interesting to observe the evolution of the smartphone and the corresponding market. I feel that we are now at the launch point for the next stage of advancement in mobile technology so it is a good time to reflect and look forward.

Let’s be clear that Apple created the smartphone market as we know it today. Sure there were “smartphones” before the iPhone, but that is like comparing DOS-based computers to the Macintosh and all graphical computers after. They simply weren’t in the same league. For all the talk about Apple not innovating lately, I think a lot of people are missing the big picture. The iPhone was a huge leap forward from the “primordial” smartphones, just as the Macintosh was a huge leap from early text-based personal computers. Once a market segment is created, competition begins to fill in. But competing in an established category is quite different from creating a market and continually moving it forward.

Considering how so many people felt themselves “technology illiterate” in the PC era, the fact that millions upon millions of people now own smartphones is quite a feat. But obviously this didn’t happen overnight. It’s been seven years since Apple introduced the original iPhone and 6 years since they rolled out the App Store. Every year Apple brings out some new advances, but while other companies want to ride the bleeding edge, Apple has been very different in their approach. It’s almost as if Apple knows that too much, too quickly has the potential to turn off consumers. They seem to understand that mainstream society needs to get used to technology advancements before building further upon them. Steve Jobs once used the analogy of people and technology being on a “first date” in the 80’s and I think the analogy somewhat extends out now. Move too fast and someone will get dumped. Had Apple gone too quickly and made the iPhone too complex or less reliable, it may have stymied the adoption of the iPhone and smartphones in general. However, as Apple was slowly bringing us along, being careful not to move too fast or introduce bleeding-edge technology that could have negatively impacted user experience, a certain set of users wanted to move faster.

In the early days of Android, phone manufacturers tried just about everything and anything they could to compete with the iPhone and differentiate themselves from other Android phones. I likened it to throwing everything against the wall to see what would stick. For all the gimmicky things that Android phone manufacturers tried, the one thing that actually seemed to stick was bigger screen size. Ironically, bigger screen sizes may not have been an intentional development, but rather done out of necessity, as the phones that initially supported LTE needed bigger batteries to handle the increased drain that the early LTE chipsets required. Bigger batteries required bigger phones and correspondingly bigger screen sizes. Samsung then took the larger screen size concept to the next level with the Galaxy Note in 2012. It isn’t hard to understand why certain people like a bigger screen. Techie-types seem to like anything with bigger specs, and those with bad eyesight think that bigger screens means they are easier to read. Others simply like to have more screen room to work with. Regardless, Samsung’s bigger screens ended up being virtually the only thing that average users could identify with on non-Apple phones. Somewhat paradoxically, while competitors claimed bigger screens on phones were better, they simultaneously pushed smaller screens on tablets! But that is a discussion for another time.

Where Apple was being careful in not pushing technology too fast, they may have been just a little too cautious. The mainstream that was “technology illiterate” became savvy quicker than Apple expected. Ironically, it appears that the ease-of-use Apple was so careful to protect empowered users to not be so fearful of technology, emboldening them to explore products from other companies. Samsung’s bigger screens was a simple draw to those who were wanting to push the technology envelope. The simple fact that Apple has now introduced larger screen sizes shows that there must have been significant customer demand for them. From my own personal experience as a technology consultant, I can say that I was asked many questions about larger screen sizes in the last couple of years. Several people indicated that they were contemplating leaving the iPhone to get a bigger screen. Congratulations, Samsung! Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!

Now don’t get me wrong. I think competition is a great thing. It keeps all on their toes, constantly working to improve their products or services. Ultimately consumers win from varied choices and lower costs. But I think one can tell a lot about the company behind the products from their advertisements. Why does it seem that the large majority of Samsung’s ads are trying to poke fun at the iPhone? Samsung perhaps doesn’t realize (or perhaps they do) that they are also making fun of people who use iPhones. This isn’t a good way to win friends and influence people. If your products are so great, Samsung, why do you need to build them up by trying to tear down others? And what does it say about the people who are influenced by this type of conceited, self-congratulatory commercials? It’s a throwback to the Old World of Technology where many technology professionals gave off an aura of smug superiority. I think most people have no desire deal with egotistical technology professionals any longer.

Unfortunately for Samsung, the jig may be up. For all those people who claim that having a bigger screen was innovative, it was something that was very simple to copy. Now that Apple has introduced bigger screen sizes, Samsung no longer has an easy claim to fame. The fact that sales of the iPhone 6 have been record-setting seems to indicate that while people did in fact want smartphones with big screens, what they truly wanted was an iPhone with a big screen. For all of Samsung’s hype, their “Next Big Thing” usually was simply their next “big” thing. Now that everyone’s big, what will Samsung do? When the “we had big screens first!” marketing campaign fizzles out, what gimmicky tech features will they resort to next?

Hopefully Samsung enjoyed their time in the sun because it seems that Apple is back with a vengeance. Their current path of innovation, save the Apple Watch, may seem subtle at this point, but it all stands to fundamentally reshape not only the mobile device market, but the entire technology landscape as well. Besides making incredible technology products, what Apple does at its core is bring technologies into the mainstream. By making technology easy to use and accessible, Apple makes technology more powerful than any hardware specification alone can. Let’s look forward a little bit:

  • HomeKit will become the standard for unified home automation across disparate devices. The “Jetsons” home will finally come closer to reality.
  • HealthKit will become the standard for organizing personal health information from various sensors and data input. Soon we will hear stories about how Apple technology is literally saving people’s lives.
  • Apple Pay will move forward the payment transaction industry that has been quagmired. Where other tech companies have tried to bring mobile payments to the mainstream, only Apple has the customer base and industry influence to actually pull it off.
  • All these technologies will be also tied into Apple Watch, which already seems like it will be one of the hottest tech items of the coming years. I will write more about Apple Watch in a future article.

The problem for Samsung, or any other competing manufacturer, is that unlike a simple large screen, none of these technologies that Apple is bringing forward are easy to copy. This is because Apple isn’t just bringing raw technology advances to the table. Apple is doing the very hard work of making the technology easy to use and accessible. This requires a lot of development work as well as significant investments in creating industry relationships. Companies that are primarily manufacturers do not have the nearly 40 years of R&D and ingrained culture of innovation that Apple has. It’s quite a different thing to bring genesis to an entire ecosystem of amazing user experience than it is to throw some tech specs at a board and slap together cheap electronic devices. To Samsung, smartphones are just another TV or microwave that they churn out en masse. But to Apple, it’s personal. They aren’t just a manufacturing company. They really do care about making “insanely great” devices. This is the legacy of Steve Jobs. The payoff for Apple is that they are clearly the most valuable company in the technology industry, even if we don’t look at the numbers. Apple’s clout among companies and consumers in the economy at large is priceless and the fact that the entire world waits with baited breath to see what Apple does next is proof enough.

For those that think they can compete with Apple when they have established mainstream success with technology ecosystems, they should learn from recent history. Many tried to knock Apple off the iPod/iTunes pedestal. All failed miserably. Corporate juggernauts like Microsoft and Sony seemed feeble when attempting to replicate the success that Apple had. Again, this was because Apple wan’t simply making digital music players. Anyone could and did make those. Apple knew that they had to focus on the entire user experience and make it brain-dead simple for users to not only play songs on their devices, but also purchase and organize their music as well. Getting music on early MP3 players was a chore for all but the most techie among us. It seems obvious now, but if you couldn’t get music on your device, the device itself was pretty useless, no matter how great its tech specs were. The same will hold true for HomeKit, HealthKit, and Apple Pay. While its competitors were all busy trying to make phones with the biggest, baddest, tech specs, Apple was quietly leapfrogging them in technology that consumers will truly care about. By the time other companies figure this out, assuming they ever will, they will likely be too late. If Apple is successful in creating new technology ecosystems around their new innovations, it will be extraordinary hard for anyone to compete. This will be especially true for a simple manufacturing company like Samsung who doesn’t even make the operating system that runs on their phones.

Apple’s marketing slogan for the iPhone 6 is “Bigger than Bigger”. Subtle, but absolutely on point. While it seems that size may in fact matter, at the same time it really doesn’t matter. There are bigger things than big screens and we are about to see this come to fruition. It will certainly be interesting to see what Apple’s competition does next.

Ferguson and Big Government Hypocrisy

goodcop_badcop

You probably asked for it to become this way, even if you don’t yet realize it.

I live near St. Louis, MO, which as you probably know by now, is the metropolitan area where the city of Ferguson is located. My house is less than 25 miles away from Ferguson, which suddenly became the focus of the nation last month. The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer has set off both a figurative and literal firestorm in the city and the nation.

The entirety of the Ferguson situation become much larger than the initial incident. There are 3 main plots to this story. First, obviously, is the question whether the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer was murder or self-defense. That evolved into protests encompassing the larger issue of police brutality. When the protestors (or other people who were only interested in starting trouble) became violent and destructive, the perceived overreaction of the local police brought up questions about the militarization of local police forces and violations of free speech. The three issues are obviously interrelated, but they are also distinct. Each point deserves a thorough discussion.

I’m not going to say much about the killing of Michael Brown because there are so many unanswered questions. None of us know for sure what happened that day so it is impossible to make a conclusion. However, I know there is a lot of suspicion regarding the integrity of police departments so I completely understand the concerns people may have regarding the investigation itself.

I’m certainly no fan of police brutality. Those who choose to “serve and protect” must always remember the second part of that statement. I don’t believe that police should have any special protection if they violate people’s rights.

I will say that violence is wrong and I think all sides are united against violence, whether it is from police or rioters. Preventing violence is truly the core of all the issues surrounding the Ferguson situation, yet I think many people are missing a big common thread.

One thing became pretty evident over the first few nights of the protests and riots. The way the police handled the situation with military-style equipment pushed a lot of people’s buttons. Many claimed to be shocked and appalled at the sight of highly militarized police forces on suburban American streets. From the TV reports, especially the live ones, it certainly seemed like heavily armed police using tear gas and rubber bullets were going overboard attempting to clear people, including journalists, from the streets. Scenes like that set off a frenzy on social media with people decrying the brutality of police trampling people’s right to protest. Certainly I’m no fan of anybody’s rights being infringed upon. But what I found hypocritical was that many of the people who were criticizing this overreach of government are people who consistently advocate for government overreach in other ways.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too when it comes to big government! If you want more government control in one area, you must be willing to accept big government across the board, including more powerful police and more intrusion into your personal life. If you don’t like overly-powerful government agencies, you must be willing to shrink government entitlement programs and allow other people to live their lives as they see fit. Big government is two sides of the same coin. You can not honestly expect to have a government that is powerful and manipulative on one hand, yet unintrusive and peaceful on the other. Government only knows one way to get things done. When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Government, at its core, is the authorized use of violence. Note that I didn’t say “justified”. I said “authorized”. There is a big difference. Justified means that an action is morally sound. Authorized simply means an action was permitted or commissioned. I think a lot of people misunderstand the functioning of government. Governments, and the laws created by them, are not the shining ideal of virtue. Nor can we expect them to be. Simply because government takes an action doesn’t make that action justified, even if a law authorizes their conduct. Laws are made by imperfect people, especially considering those who make laws are very imperfect and possibly corrupt politicians. There are many examples in history of very bad laws if you need proof of this. These imperfect laws are then enforced by other imperfect people, some of who may be unethical themselves, and you can begin to see the recipe for disaster that too many laws brings us. The more laws we have increases the odds that there will be the authorized but unjustified use of violence.

Because government is violence incarnate, it should be an option of last resort. Ideally government should only be there to protect people’s rights when certain people will not cooperatively respect the rights of others. When we begin to ask government to do more than protect our natural rights, we open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences. The more we ask of government, the more powerful it becomes. Ultimately, that power is concentrated into people with guns and armor.

I often tell people that all government actions are at gunpoint. A lot of people push back against this statement. They claim that they don’t have men with guns forcing them to comply with the laws or pay their taxes. However, this is not a metaphor. It is reality. All government laws, taxes, regulations, etc. are enforced by the threat of violence. Usually just the threat is enough. But if anyone choses to disobey a law or decides not to pay a tax, the threat would become real. It doesn’t matter if the law or tax is truly justified, breaking laws or not paying taxes will eventually result in men with guns taking you to jail or forcibly taking your property. Continue to resist and force will be used against the “perpetrator”, up to and including lethal force if deemed “justified” by those enforcing the laws. Perhaps those that didn’t believe me before saw what happened in Ferguson and have begun to understand.

This isn’t a partisan issue, either. Government has grown steadily since the beginning of the last century, but under the current and previous presidential administration, government at all levels have seen unprecedented increases in scope and corresponding overreach. It is probably easy to correlate the militarization of local police with the Bush administration’s war on terror. But government growth is government growth. Whether you supported the so-called “Patriot” Act and its liberty destroying actions, or whether you called for the government to force free people to purchase health insurance with Obama’s ironically named “Affordable” Care Act, the end result is the ultimately the same. If the militarization of police is now becoming visible due to the war on terror, how long will it take for the militarization of the IRS to be felt from Obamacare? Laws must be enforced, and the more power government has, the more powerful those enforcers will become. Whether it’s BLM agents with helicopters and armored vehicles killing cattle at the Bundy Ranch, state governments dictating who and who may not marry, or local police SWAT teams with body armor and tear gas terrorizing residents and journalists in Ferguson, these incidents have more in common than some people would care to admit. The common thread of big government weaves throughout.

Perhaps hypocrisy is too strong of a word for some people in this situation. They honestly don’t yet understand the correlation between the expansion of big government and violent government overreach. The scenes in Ferguson in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting should serve as a wake-up call for these people. Every time you want government to make a new law, think about what you saw in Ferguson. Every time you want government to raise taxes, recall those images from Ferguson. Every time you want more government, remember Ferguson – because ultimately that is exactly what you are asking for.

The Apple-IBM Deal: No, Hell Didn’t Freeze Over

Steve Jobs Flips off IBM

Steve Jobs Flips off IBM

If you have even a rudimentary knowledge of the history of the personal computer, you know that during the 1980’s Apple and IBM were considered mortal enemies. In a fight to the death for dominance of the personal computer market, it was the upstart Apple who created the personal computer revolution vs the old guard IBM who was the 800-pound gorilla in the technology industry. To this day there are still perceptions of Apple and IBM as distinct opposites in the technology world. This is even though a lot of time has passed since the PC wars of the 80’s and things have changed quite a bit. So when Apple and IBM announced a strategic partnership it wasn’t surprising that many people were somewhat confused. How in the world could these two companies form a strategic partnership?

If you know the history of technology as well as I do, the announcement wasn’t actually all that surprising. While at first IBM was in fact Apple’s antagonist, Microsoft actually became the common enemy of both companies. Let me give you a brief background.

Yes, it was IBM that came out with the “IBM PC” that ran a DOS operating system made by Microsoft. But due to shortsightedness on IBM’s part, along with some strategic maneuvers on Microsoft’s part, Microsoft became the big winner in the personal computer market, crushing every personal computer maker that didn’t run MS-DOS (and later Windows). Apple was virtually the only personal computer company to survive, albeit just barely. At the same time, the PC revolution crushed nearly every old-school technology company that was prominent during the mainframe era of the 60’s and 70’s. Even IBM itself was nearly put out of business by the onslaught of IBM-compatible PC clones running Microsoft operating systems.

What saved Apple was the return of Steve Jobs and the subsequent expansion of Apple’s technology offerings into mobile devices such as the iPod, followed later by the iPhone and iPad, along with the revenues of the iTunes and App Stores. What saved IBM was their refocusing on their corporate services offerings back in the 1990’s. In fact, IBM was the first big name to get out of the PC business in 2004, when they sold their PC division to Lenovo. Only after Apple ushered in The New World of Technology with the iPhone and iPad, drastically changing the technology market, did other names such as Dell and HP begin to seriously target the corporate services market that IBM had long dominated. Both Apple and IBM realized that the PC market was beyond direct competition with Microsoft, but there were bigger things in store. Apple focused on the consumer market and IBM focused on enterprise services.

Fast-forward to present day and the deal really makes perfect sense. Apple is the dominant force in the consumer and small business market due to the iPhone and iPad. IBM commands a lot of influence in the corporate world. IBM wants to grow with the mobile device revolution and perhaps due to the lessons learned in the 1980’s, knows that there is plenty of money to be made in offering services instead of trying to create their own devices. Apple would love to get more enterprise business and knows that partnering with such a well-respected name like IBM is probably the quickest way to achieve growth.

So it really is just a very simple strategic alliance between two companies with a lot to gain between them. Yes, it seems a little funny at first, but the reality is that both companies are very mature and powerful and stand to get more powerful together. What was your first reaction when hearing this announcement?

The Facebook Messenger App is NOT the Devil!

The Facebook Messenger App - Could it be SATAN!? No, just some sensationalist claims gone viral.

The Facebook Messenger App – Could it be SATAN!? No, just some sensationalist claims gone viral.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware of all the dire warnings about Facebook’s “new” Messenger app floating around the Internet. At first I wasn’t going to write anything about it, but it seems that the story continues to get bigger. So I feel it necessary to discuss the warnings and how it all got started.

An article written by Nick Russo for a Houston radio station claimed that the Facebook Messenger app would have permissions to do all sorts of privacy-invading things if you installed it. For some reason, the article went viral. Well, it probably went viral for the same reason people send chain letters about virus hoaxes. It had just enough sensationalism mixed in with an authoritative tone to seem credible. The name of Nick’s radio station is “The Bull,” and perhaps that should have been an indication to people reading it that his article was for the most part, BS.

I’m not sure why this radio personality felt it necessary to pretend to be a technology expert. The very first time I read the article I knew there was something just not right. I tried to research his claims for some friends who were asking and for the life of me I couldn’t find anything about this guy stating that he had any professional experience besides working in radio. There’s nothing wrong with working in radio, but if you’re going to use your platform to disseminate information, please be sure you know what you’re talking about! As far as I’ve seen, Nick has not yet written an apology for his fear-mongering article, but rather has shifted into portraying himself as some sort of privacy advocate. Once again, I’m all for privacy advocates, but if you’re going to advocate – know of what you speak beyond just a cursory scratching of the surface.

Nick Russo made a lot of outlandish claims regarding what the Facebook Messenger app could do. The first problem with his claims were that he didn’t make a distinction between smartphones. I knew right away when reading his article was that there was no way Apple would allow an app like that to get into their App Store. Certainly it might be possible with an Android-based phone, however unlikely it would be, but Apple puts every single app submitted to their store through an approval process. Every. Single. App. Yeah, there’s no chance that Apple would allow Facebook Messenger, or any other app, to do the following as claimed by Nick Russo:

  • change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service … for its own reasons without telling you.
  • send text messages to your contacts on your behalf … when they want
  • see through your lens on your phone whenever they want .. listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to
  • read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls … Facebook will know all of this
  • read e-mails you’ve sent and take information from them to use for their own gain.
  • read personal profile information stored on your device … addresses, personal info, pictures or anything else
  • Facebook will now have a tally of all the apps you use, how often you use them and what information you keep or exchange on those apps.

It’s not like Apple iPhones are some off-the-wall brand that can be safely overlooked when discussing smartphones. They are just a *little* popular, to put it lightly. So to write an article like this with such extreme claims and not know about Apple’s approval process is simply irresponsible. But even if we were to ignore iPhones for the moment, does anyone really think that Facebook would want to do most of what is claimed above to their users? Perhaps Mr. Russo should have put in a call to someone at Facebook to ask a few questions first? Or at least do a tiny little bit of research on this thing called the Internet before publishing an article like this? I bet even the resident PC guy at “The Bull” probably could have warned Nick that his claims were pretty far out and to be careful before publishing his article. But alas, Mr. Russo took a little sliver of knowledge and believed he knew more than he did – running off like “The Bull” in a china shop and starting a viral tidal wave in the process.

To be fair, in theory – extreme theory, what Nick Russo claims above could possibly be accomplished by highly malicious apps running on some smartphone platforms. But Facebook Messenger isn’t a malicious app. And Nick must have found that out because in his next article he states, “I’ve now learned that both the New Facebook Messenger App and the original Facebook app have many of the SAME permissions.” Yes, I’m sure he did learn a few things once his article went viral! But perhaps those things should have been learned BEFORE publishing! As it turns out, the Facebook Messenger app (which isn’t new, but has been out for years), does virtually nothing different than any other similar app, including the normal Facebook app that billions of people already use. Oops!

Apparently once he found that out, Nick choose to portray himself as a privacy advocate, championing the idea that he made people more aware of the privacy choices on their phones. Fair enough, but let’s call a spade a spade. If he really cared about people’s privacy choices, he would have done some research and consulted with technology experts so that he could have written a balanced article. Any good that he has done has been completely obscured by the hysteria he created. Advocacy by accident at best. Fear-mongering at worst.

Bottom line, there are many articles that debunk Nick’s claims. Here is another article discussing some of Nick’s claims as “myths”. Facebook even posted an article discussing the privacy concerns. So the moral of the story is that we can’t believe everything we read – especially when it comes to technology topics. While we may not like the fact that Facebook is making everyone use a separate app for Messenger, spreading misinformation isn’t helping anybody.

Jumping Off a 35-Foot Cliff and Facing One’s Fears

35-foot Cliff

That’s the cliff I jumped off. Yes, from the top.

Other than my immediate family, not many people are aware that I have a bit of a fear of heights. Now it’s not a debilitating “phobia” as others may actually suffer from, but I certainly get strong feelings of anxiousness when looking out from tall buildings or over railings. Sometimes even driving over long or tall bridges gives me “the willies”. It’s enough of a fear that I will make a little effort to avoid it when possible, but not so much that it actually interferes with “normal” situations.

I had the good fortune to take a lake vacation for the week of July 4th with some friends on Lake Norfolk in Arkansas. One of the activities available is jumping off a cliff into the lake. There is a short section about 10-12 feet to jump off and then there is an approximately 35-foot jump from the top. Joining my kids, I had no problem jumping off the 10-foot section. But we were all curious about the 35-foot jump. My 12-year old daughter especially, who is a big fan of the Divergent series, wanted to try the jump to emulate the initiation of the Dauntless faction. We went up to the top section and took a look. Surprisingly, the view over the edge didn’t make the hair on the back of my neck stand up – not that there is actually any hair on the back of my neck, but you know the feeling! So my daughter and I talked and we both decided to face our fears and take the leap.

I asked my daughter if she wanted me to go first and of course she did. So I started psyching myself up to make the leap. Now that I had committed to making the jump, the view over the edge suddenly looked a little more intimidating! I got myself up to the edge and began visualizing my leap. Ironically I had just been talking to my daughters the day before about fear and the fight or flight response. Now we got to put it into action. Besides the anxiety at jumping off a cliff, there was some fear of the falling sensation and also about hitting the water correctly so it wouldn’t hurt. My conscious mind was realizing that I had watched many other people jump before me and nobody was getting hurt. All these things raced through my mind as I tried to urge myself to make the jump. I looked down at all the people who were in boats watching me and the other jumpers. I looked down at the water. Then my hands and arms literally got numb. Not like tingly but seriously prickly-numb like electricity was flowing through them. I started shaking out my arms to ward off the sensation. It was like my body couldn’t believe what my brain was contemplating. After a few seconds this numbness subsided and I was ready to go. Now the hard part was making my legs actually jump. I was mentally ready for the jump, but it’s one thing to physically force yourself to leap over a cliff. I went for it once but stopped. My legs simply wouldn’t do what I was commanding them to do. Then I started talking to myself loudly trying to muster up the last bit of courage to force myself to go through with it. It took a few more seconds but I finally felt the moment and I jumped …

… I was flying through the air …

The hardest part was making the jump. The rest was easy. Not that I had enough time to think about anything but trying to hit the water feet-first. It was over so quickly that I don’t really remember anything except the view of my legs clearing the cliff – that and hitting the water. I mostly landed correctly and splashdown really didn’t hurt. Although who knows how much adrenaline was pumping through my veins!

I made room for my daughter to jump. Unlike me who took several minutes to finally leap over the cliff, she hesitated just once but then went for it. It was nice to have a shared experience like that, especially when conquering something that is one of my only fears. I rode high on that the rest of the day. It’s not every day we get to push our own limits and I’m glad I was able to pass this particular test.

Sharia Law? Hobby Lobby Ain’t a Government, It’s a Private Business

george takei

I want equal rights for everyone as long as I agree with those rights.

I appreciate people like George Takei who have used successfully used social media to leverage their celebrity status into large followings. Especially when they not only use their platform for entertaining, but also to comment on social issues. Sticking out one’s neck in support of a cause they believe in is a risky thing to do, but I believe it is a worthwhile endeavor to speak out, especially against establishment. However, at times it seems that people like Takei need to educate themselves a little before speaking, for they highlight their ignorance of the issues.

The recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court has set social media on fire, with people on one side claiming this is a defeat for women’s rights. George Takei wrote an article, Hobby Lobby Ain’t A Church, It’s A For Profit Business, in which he asks what the decision would have been if Hobby Lobby were run by Muslims and they attempted to enforce Sharia Law on their employees. While at first the comparison may appear relevant (Christian beliefs vs Muslim beliefs), the difference between the two are so big that it borders on intentional distortion of the facts, assuming Takei truly understands what rights are.

Sharia law, as any system of laws, require government enforcement to be of any influence. Or at least a group of people claiming authority using violent force, or the threat of violent force, to coerce people into compliance. To my knowledge, Hobby Lobby does not force anyone to work for them. Nor do they force anyone to purchase from them. Nor do they stop any of their employees from purchasing anything, let alone birth control. They simply are choosing not to offer certain types of birth control on the insurance benefits they offer their employees based on their moral conviction.

Takei, as do many others on his side of the debate, go into various arguments attempting to show hypocrisy with Hobby Lobby’s beliefs regarding what they choose to offer or invest in. Others I’ve read similarly go into supposed scientific arguments why Hobby Lobby isn’t being consistent with their beliefs. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter. Hobby Lobby is a business owned by free individuals in a free market. Unless one has an ownership interest in a particular company, one should have no say into how a company runs their business, no matter how silly or illogical one believes they are acting. Just as one should not have a say into how another chooses to live their life, something Takei strongly crusades for.

Takei is a fervent advocate of gay rights and has been especially vocal regarding the issue of gay marriage. He even states in this article, “Our personal beliefs stop at the end of our noses, and we should therefore keep it out of other people’s business — and bedrooms.” The hypocrisy in this statement is practically self-evident! He literally states that our personal beliefs should be kept out of other people’s business. Yet here he is advocating that the Supreme Court should have upheld a law that literally sticks the nose of government squarely into other people’s businesses. A law that is based upon the arbitrary belief that a business is somehow obligated to offer a particular set of insurance benefits as defined by others.

The real problem here is that we have a system where certain people believe that health insurance is a “right.” There is also a correlated belief out there that employers are the anointed dispensers of health insurance for the country. Since certain people believe that health insurance is a “right,” and these same people generally believe that employers have an obligation to provide health insurance for their employees, it seems to make sense that employers should offer health insurance that covers virtually every potential need a person could have. This was the motivation behind the so-called Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which attempted to force employers to offer exactly this type of health insurance. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled against this aspect of the law, it should be no surprise that those supported this law are up in arms. It flies in the face of their personal morality.

Therein lies the problem. People like George Takei don’t understand what rights are. I will write on this more extensively in a future article, but for now it is suffice to say that true and natural rights do not involve infringing the rights of others. In this case, the example is clear. People have the right to purchase birth control. A purchase transaction is a voluntary exchange between the buyer and the seller. People also have the right to purchase health insurance. Once again, the transaction is voluntary. The idea that employers are obligated to offer a particular type of health insurance is advocating a coerced transaction. Whether or not the employer actually wants to offer a particular type of insurance, the advocates of health insurance as a “right” believe it is justified and moral to use the threat of government violence to make sure an employer delivers an arbitrarily defined set of insurance – even if this defined set is against the morality of the employer. They believe their definition of morality is superior to any other morality. Exercising one’s true and natural rights does not involve the infringing of the rights of others. Otherwise, it is not a right. Especially when the attempt to exercise this so-called right requires violence or the threat of violence.

To be clear, the most hypocritical aspect to this whole situation is that just as Sharia law is an arbitrary system of morals, the idea that health insurance is a right, as well as a raft of related ideas, are also an arbitrary set of morals. Accusing Hobby Lobby of the equivalent of Sharia law ignores the fact that the accusers are attempting to use real government violence to enforce their own arbitrary set of moralities. So who are the bad guys here? Free individuals running their own privately-owned business according to their beliefs, or the people attempting to use government to coerce others to comply with a particular set of moralities? George Takei and others need to take a look in the mirror. If they want others to keep their beliefs out of their bedrooms, they need to make sure to keep their beliefs out of others’ businesses. You may be a big celebrity, but that doesn’t give you the authority to extend your personal beliefs beyond the end of your own nose.